Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Author interview: Chanda Stafford, author of "First"

Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with Chanda Stafford, author of the newly-released novel First.

We received an advance review copy of the novel, which is the first in a trilogy. It's a beautifully written story in which a young girl, Mira, is chosen to be a "second"... a dubious honor that is designed to sustain the immortal life of Socrates, a "first."

The thrilling plot mixes action with a romantic love story. As The Coffee Pot review site puts it: "If you loved the Hunger Games trilogy, get ready for your next obsession."

This book deserves to get good exposure from its blog tour which kicks off today. Check the blog tour page for more interviews, reviews of the book, and some fun giveaways.

Now, on to our conversation with Chanda Stafford!

In a few words, how would you describe your book to someone who hasn't heard about it?

First is a young adult novel set in a world where immortality is a reality, if you’re willing to take the life of a child.

How long did it take you to write the novel? Can you give us some insights into your approach?

I used the tried and true rush-through-it, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach and wrote it during National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, if you haven’t heard of it, is a manic free fall of creativity where the sole purpose is to write 50,000 words in a month. They don’t have to be good words, or complete sentences, and it’s all about just getting that dreaded first draft out. While that’s definitely a noble endeavor, it unfortunately makes the dreaded editing monster much more hazardous.

That's a lot of writing in one month! We understand that you're an English teacher. How has that influenced your writing?

Once we’re grown up (well, in age anyway), none of us can go back to being teens again, nor would many of us want to. Working with kids every day has really helped me form the identities of my teen characters. It’s added a level of authenticity that it would lack without the real world experience and knowledge to draw from.

We found the premise of the novel very inventive, with its social turmoil and the highly class-driven hierarchy of the privileged and the unworthy. Where did you get the idea for Project ReGenesis?

I was actually watching “The Secret” at a friend’s house, which, if you’ve never seen it, is a pretty terrible movie. As I was zoning out and starting to day dream, the premise hit me: What if you could download your mind into another person’s body? At that point, it was kind of wishful thinking, as I wanted anything possible to escape the horrendously mind numbing mental “exercises” I was being forced to watch.

Ah, we'll have to add "The Secret" to our do-not-watch list! The chapters of your story switch point of view of the various characters, primarily Mira and Socrates. Can you tell us about that creative decision and any challenges it presented in the writing process?

I absolutely loved writing this book from dual perspectives. I knew I wanted to give Mira a voice, but I wanted Socrates to be heard as well. He was still human, in a roundabout fashion. He still had human feelings and emotions, and I wanted to make him sympathetic to the audience, despite who he was and what he represented.

However, I’m not an elderly man, so it was challenging to write from his perspective. After I started struggling though, I realized I had an amazing resource I could draw from: my own grandfather. Throughout my life, he has been a wonderful influence on me, and I wanted to draw from my experiences with him to add authenticity to Socrates’ character. I reflected on his struggles with aging, his frustrations with his own memory loss, and how it impacted his relationships with those around him. I also looked at how he wanted to maintain his dignity, independence, and identity above all else, and used those traits while I was creating Socrates’ character.

Mira's memories of Rosie - and the accompanying guilt - are a driving theme in the novel. Can you comment on that aspect of the story?

Mira definitely feels responsible for her sister’s disappearance. She feels that if she was just a better sister and more willing to take care of Rosie, then her sister would still be alive. She doesn’t understand all the different politics at play that might have impacted Rosie’s disappearance and takes it personally.

In the book Mira finds herself in a dangerous and delicate situation...with an opportunity to make great change in her world. This book is the first of a trilogy. Any hints on where things will go from here with Mira?

Without giving too much away, you’ll definitely see more of Mira, Will, and the other characters you’d grown to love in the next book, as well as some rather startling twists and turns. New characters will also emerge as Mira’s world changes in ways she never could have imagined.

Even though Socrates will not be the duel voice in the next book, that trend will continue with a new character whose opposing motivations and desires wars with Mira’s. There will be even more action, more insight into this futuristic world, and devastating cracks will appear in the foundation of everything Mira holds dear.

Tell us about the process of mapping out a trilogy. Do you do heavy outlining to plot out the storyline?

For the trilogy itself, I have an overarching plot. There are basic themes and concepts that I want to run throughout all three books, but each book will carry its own story arc. Outlining each book, especially where it relates to the whole of the trilogy helps me keep my place, but I also like leaving room for those wonderful, magical a-ha moments that happen when you’re writing and everything just clicks into place.

Now that you have your first book behind you, what advice would you give to would-be writers?

Don’t give up, and when you have your first draft done, edit the heck out of it, pass it off to poor, unsuspecting beta readers, then edit it some more. When you’ve done that, let it sit for a month or so, then go back over it. You’ll never make it perfect, but the more editing you can do before submitting it, the more likely you are to end up with a contract.

What novels or authors are among your favorites? What's on your current reading list?

My current reading list? Oh geez. I’ve got about thirty titles on my Kindle right now waiting to be read, but I have about as much attention span as a squirrel so I bounce from book to book until something catches my eye. I do love reading new authors, though, and have a current penchant for the paranormal and young adult books with snarky, unusual main characters.

Okay, let's get a bit more personal. Tell us five random things about you!
  • I like zombie books, but figure I’d probably be a part of the 99% who get eaten during the first wave.
  • Peanut butter ranks right up there with water and air to me. I grew up eating peanut butter on just about everything. Ever tried a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich? Incredible.
  • Vinagaroons scare the bejeezus out of me. If you don’t know what they are, look them up, but make sure you have the lights on. I swear, Stephen King could write a truly terrifying novel using these horrifying creatures.
  • One time, I told my students I was a ninja. Surprisingly enough, they didn’t buy it.
  • I love to find and sell antiques in my spare time, a la American Pickers, but don’t like spiders, so my tv show would involve a lot of shrieking and jumping around like a sissy. With my luck, it’d end up more like a comedy than anything educational. Then again, if I had my own TV show, maybe I could just hire someone to kill spiders for me - kind of like a cabana boy with a fly swatter and can of Raid.
Chanda, thanks for talking with us. We're pleased to feature your book on KBoards!

First is available now to download to your Kindle!

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